Mayor Byron W. Brown took the oath of office the other day, marking the start of his third four-year term. Some politicians grow stale in the job. The good ones reinvent themselves, bringing fresh ideas and new solutions to old problems.
For the future of the city and his own legacy, Brown must ensure that he falls into the latter category. We believe the mayor has moved the city in the right direction; the city’s stable finances and building boom testify to that. However, the city is facing some big problems. Here are some areas on which the mayor should focus:
SCHOOLS. There is absolutely nothing more important to the strength, vitality and future of the City of Buffalo than the public school system. Right now, it’s failing. The graduation rate still hovers around a dismal 50 percent.
Brown has long insisted that he and his administration have been involved in the public school system. From a financial standpoint, that is true. But the public wants and needs more of the mayor’s time and attention spent on schools.
Brown seems to have gotten the message. Speaking after his swearing-in ceremony, Brown pledged to a standing-room-only crowd of elected officials and invited guests to “… advocate even more passionately for the needs of our students …”
That’s good. His office may have no direct authority over the school district, but it does have influence and the mayor needs to exercise it.
DEVELOPMENT. When Brown was first elected mayor in 2005, the word “development” was hardly mentioned in the same sentence as Buffalo. Planners had wonderful architects’ renderings, and little else besides their wishful thinking. But construction has steadily picked up steam during Brown’s tenure. To his credit, he assisted when appropriate and got out of the way when appropriate.
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is expanding in ways that once were unimaginable. The energy is palpable. The same can be said of waterfront development. Brown eased the way for projects such as Canalside, a fast-growing development district with two hotels, two hockey rinks, re-created canals and other attractions on the way. Sections of outer harbor land long owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will be transferred to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. The city wanted that land, badly. Brown, showing true leadership, acted in the best interest of all Western New Yorkers by giving up the city’s claim.
POVERTY. The mayor is focused on the city’s improving economy, but he is also keenly aware that not all parts of the city are in play. Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and Buffalo Billion efforts are directly targeted at helping lift the city’s poor. The mayor can assist through the Buffalo Employment and Training Center and other avenues, such as partnering with Erie Community College, in training residents for in-demand jobs.
CRIME. Under the mayor, several crime-fighting initiatives have been undertaken, most notably Buffalo’s partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The effort is aimed at aggressively prosecuting gang members, who are responsible for much of the violence across the city.
Reducing crime remains a huge factor in reshaping the city’s image. It’s simple: People need to feel safe visiting, let alone living, in the city. This is a tough nut to crack for any big city, but the mayor’s continued efforts in working with partners should make a measurable difference.
The mayor and the city have made significant strides in the past eight years. Improving the schools is the key to maintaining that momentum. Renewed focus on education will help the city in the other key areas of development, poverty and crime. We welcome Brown’s promise to do more to fix education in Buffalo.